Martin Luther King, Jr. did not lead a safe life. He took risks with his person, and he took risks with his ideas.
Today, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a safe suject. His life is universally praised, while his ideas are safely ignored. The idea of racial equality is invariably given lip service while our schools and our prisons daily belie it. And all the while the country simmers with an air of white gievance, as though the occasional displacement of white privilege was somehow grounds for discontent.
King wpent the last years of his life promoting the Poor People's Campaign; today we are obsessed with cutting food stamps and taxing the poor so that they will "have skin in the game," whatever that means.
And King would be unsurprised if unhappy to find that the United States is still one of the leading purveyors of violence in the world today, congratulating itself on the orgy of destruction it has visited on the Middle East in an alternating litany of wreaking vengeance and promoting democracy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is today a safe subject becuse he has been buried for nearly half a century. In his life he was hounded by his government, shunned by his society, stabbed, arrested, and finally murdered. His forthright stand and determined action against bigotry, discrimination, poverty, injustice, and war would make him no more popular today than when he lived. His was a voice crying in the wilderness, and we all know how such prophets are treated in the end.
It is not given to most of us to display the extraordinary moral and physical courage of Dr. King. But if we would truly honor his memory with more than a passing nod to a Monday holiday, then we should keep ever before us the plight of the less fortunaate and strive every day to act to improve their lot.